Re-imagining Church for Mission

Re-imagining Church for Mission

In 1970 I met the beautiful woman who was to become my wife. We met as part of a seaside mission team, at a time when such summer outreach endeavours were commonplace in Scotland’s coastal towns. At that mission and in subsequent summer missions a number of ‘smack heads’ were converted to Christ and showed signs of genuine transformation. We made every effort to find a church or Christian group that would provide discipleship and mentoring for the new believers, but to no avail. Church culture of any denomination was completely foreign to the (mainly) young men and they felt alienated and uncomfortable in traditional church surroundings. The lack of nurturing possibilities for new Christians was totally disheartening, and it set me on a road to re-imagining the church as a missional community capable of making disciples.

Church is Mission

The Bible sets the task of fulfilling the mission of a loving and sending God squarely at the feet of His people. In his book The Mission of God’s People, Christopher Wright traces the purposes of God, from Abraham through to the great commission of Jesus and beyond to the early church. He writes:

“It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission – God’s mission”. [1]

The New Testament positions the work of evangelism resolutely within the body of Christ. In Ephesians 4:11, the apostle Paul cites the gift of evangelist as one of the essential functions of God’s people. Following the logic of the chapter, evangelists do not operate on their own any more than teachers or pastors do. Paul’s graphic imagery of a dislocated body in 1 Corinthians 12 is close to comical as he invites us to imagine an eye or a foot trying to live a separate and meaningful existence. The church has done just this, with disastrous consequences. It has forgotten or perhaps never learned how to be a missional, discipleship-making community.

Practical Suggestions to Re-imagine Church

It’s buried deep into our Scottishness: a past-times school-room model of church, led by a (usually) male ‘headie’, the Minister or Pastor who does all the spiritual stuff, whilst the rest do as they are told. Let us imagine instead a different, more biblical model of church: a body with many parts, with each part having a God-given, meaningful and important function. As a first – and possibly most difficult – move, let church leaders take the risk of creating space and freedom for other gifted functions to operate. Any local body of believers that is gifted and led by the Spirit will have various teachers, pastors, prophets and evangelists, and in a fully-functioning context those engaged in evangelism will flourish, being supported to bring others to Christ. New Christians will be birthed, taught, discipled and cared for.

The security we might experience from our existing church culture has become increasingly alien to a secularised Scotland, to our neighbours and our non-Christian friends. Our speaking and singing of ‘blood’ and ‘lambs’, our cues for sitting or standing, our prayers of ‘storming the gates’; all must seem strange if not outlandish to a majority of the population who, while longing for a deeper reality and a spiritual  authenticity, feel awkward or intimidated by our regular church gatherings.  Thankfully there is another language that is universally understood, appreciated and accepted: the language of love. I am heartened by congregations now looking for ways to share the message of God’s love, knowing that we make the best job of doing this when we love one another, when we love our neighbours, and go as far as loving our enemies. New initiatives take many forms: common meals, Messy Church, church presence and participation at community fairs, food-banks, Carols in Costa, Christmas give-aways, Alpha suppers, debt relief and support, creative workshopping, and much much more. Such activities are not an addition to church, they are church. As we recalibrate our paradigm of church, so we improve our neighbours’ chances to see, understand and believe.

The School of Christian Mission serves local churches, helping in the equipping of a missional leadership; a leadership that will remain part of their local church mix of gifted men and women. Our courses in pioneer ministry and leadership are designed to serve this end.

Alistair Macindoe
Tutor in Pioneer Ministry

[1] Christopher J.H. Wright (2010), The Mission of God’s People